Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost - 09/24/2017

Sermon by Pastor Chrys Levesque Hendrick, supply for
Bethany Lutheran Church, Ishpeming, MI
Sunday morning, September 24, 2017, 10:30, 16th Sunday after Pentecost

That’s not fair … thank God!
 
Alt. OT, Exodus 16:2-15 (not Jonah 3:10—4:11) / alt. Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 (not 145:1-8)
Philippians 1:21-30 / Matthew 20:1-16

Our readings today begin with complaint … the whining of the Israelites only two and a half months out of slavery … griping to Moses and Aaron about lack of food. … Just before today’s text … they had whined about bitter water …and, through Moses … God sweetened the waters and made them drinkable … and then led them to a lovely oasis … with twelve springs and seventy palm trees … where they camped for a while … before setting out through the wilderness.

So now the Israelites are complaining again … this time about foodIf only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.  Such ridiculous words reveal lack of trust in God’s provision … and serious memory lapses. … They have dismissed from their minds … not only the marvel of their escape … and the needful water provided in abundance … but also their enslavement … in Egypt …where probably they had far less … than what they needed … for the back-breaking labor imposed on them.

 Yet despite the complaints …which God clearly hears … God pretty much ignores the whining tone … and acknowledges the genuine needby satisfying it … with the bread-like manna in the morning … and meaty quails in the evening.  They are to gather what they need for the day … except the day before the Sabbath … when they must gather for two days.  They may not gather several days’ worth … they may not hedge their bets … by hoarding.  … God is testing their trust … and forming them into a people who will stay “plugged in” to God’s guiding power … day by day.

There is perfectly divine“fairness” … in this plan … because … God allows the people to figure … for themselves … how much is enough to nourish each particular family.  God does not impose inflexible … “bottom-line” … “one-size-fits-all” … limits …but offers freedom … within divine constraints … to satisfy every need.

Hold that thought as we consider the parable that is our Gospel text for today …

Note that the “usual daily wage” of the parable … agreed to between the landowner and the laborers … was the amount a man needed … in order to provide for his family for one day.  [I think Jesus meant to remind his disciples of the daily manna and quails … but that point may have sailed over their heads … by the time he got to the outrageous end of his story.]

To help disciples … of every era … get to the point that God’s ways are not our ways … Jesus begins his parable with a familiar scene of his time:  A landowner needs workers to tend his grape orchard … so he hires workers at the beginning of the day … for the agreed daily wage.  But the story quickly gets to a point … that may … or may not … make good economic sense. … The landowner returns to the marketplace … not just once but four more times ... begging an interesting question:  did he return … over and over … because he needed more workers … or because the men needed work?  Jesus doesn’t say … but even this much of the story is worth thinking about.  Still … let’s move on.

In September of 1997 … at the beginning of my fourth year of seminary … I had occasion to read this parable to my 83-year-old dad … when I stayed with him while Mom was in the hospital.  I had some course work to do around this parable … so I read it to him.  

When I finished reading … Dad exclaimed… as I expected“That’s not fair!” … To which I replied … you’re right it’s not thank God!

Well … that “thank God” bit … pulled Dad up short … and gave me an opening … to talk about God’s generosity. … I told him that … when the last worker hired … received the same as the first … each was receiving … all that God had had to give … and that this “daily wage” …was all that they needed

Dad was listening … but still skeptical.  So I pressed the point … by asking him to imagine what we might expect … or hope for … if God were merely fair … to us … rather than astonishingly gracious … astonishingly forgiving … astonishingly generous.  What if we got what we deservedcondemnation … rather than the divine mercy we so desperately need?

One marvel of this parable is that … while it speaks to us of eternal blessings[the kingdom of heaven is like] … it also offers us insights for our lives … now… as we still labor in the vineyard.  Consider, for example, the following true story … recounted at a Tuesday pastors gathering back in September of 2005.

Jessica DeBacker … a young teacher visiting that day … told of a boy in her class … we’ll call him James …who was afflicted with attention deficit disorder [ADD] … and needed to put all his mental powers to workjust to sit still. … He had nothing left over … for learning activities … with the other middle schoolers in the class.  Worried for this young man … Jessica told us how she took him aside and asked …“James, what can we do for you … so you can participate and learn?” … He replied that it would help if he could lie down on the floor under his desk. … She used the authority she had to allow this … and he was able to engage with the other … properly seated … kids.

Well … as we might expect … it wasn’t long before another student … we’ll call him Arthurcomplained … that it wasn’t fair for James to get special privileges.  So Jessica explained to him … privately … why she had granted this unusual permission … and … she said … “you could almost see the light-bulb shining over his head as he ‘got it.’ ” 

Next class … another student began to complain … but Arthur stopped him short … with the same explanation he had received.  Quickly … the word spread among the kids … and soon the whole class understood … that James was not being granted a special privilege … but rather … was being given what he absolutely needed … to be able to contribute … and to learn.  Best of all … his classmates were glad for him!

Now … I grant you that …hearing this anecdote … some might argue about “setting a precedent” … or about “resources” that are not available … to care for every kid’s particular “issues.”  But, thank God, such concerns were not on Jessica’s mind.  She had the courage, compassion and creativity … to permit what was in her power to allow … even in a situation that seemed to have “one-size-fits-all” standards. … And by caring for one child’s deep need … she taught … a whole classroom of kids … about grace … and how it can be lived in the here and now … in ordinary life.

So … what about our own lives and our own gifts? … Where might each of us apply our particular talentsplus … the intelligence… compassion … creativity … courage … and …yes, faith … we have been given … to live out this message of Jesus?  … With the Bible … [God’s guiding word to us] … on one hand … and public media news … [word of our human circumstances] on the other … where might we recognize an un-met need … and actually do something to help?  How might we take seriously Paul’s plea that we live our lives in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ?  What might we … do … or write … or say … as we … stand firm in one spirit … in no way intimidated by [the] opponents of the Gospel … having been granted the privilege … of believing in Christ?

While we think about the challenges … and the possibilities … of our time … I suggest we rejoice together … that God is not fair… that in Christ Jesus … God gives us grace so abundanthereand in the life to come … that there is plenty to share … with those in need
And one last thought: … Can we imagine an ending to Jesus’ parable where … instead of complaining … those who worked hard all day …[or some lesser part of the day] … cheered wildly … when they realized … that the last hired … were …also … getting … all they needed for life?  Can we imagine them all shouting … God’s not fair!  … Thanks be to God! … ?

Amen.

Pastor Chrys Levesque Hendrick

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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